If at First You Don’t Suc-seed, Try Again

As I mentioned the other day I’ll be writing about having a home garden and my successes and failures. Not to discourage you, but rather empower you by acknowledging that mistakes will be made and life will go on, I’ll be starting out with my first failure of the year.

Last year I grew my first garden and it was a HUGE learning experience for me. Two years before that I had tried to plant a few seeds on the porch and neglect them as much as possible with the hope that something would come of them. Clearly, that year, I hadn’t done any research or planning, let alone made an actual attempt to provide a nurturing environment for my plants to thrive in. Last year was different, though. I did some research, used actual plant starts, lived in a new place with a much more suitable environment for growing, and gave it my all. While the garden by no means was a flop, the production was marginal, at best. However, as I said before, it was an incredible learning experience and set me up for what will hopefully be a much more successful garden this year. I mean, a person has to start somewhere, right?

So, after what seemed like an eternity, also known as a long winter, I began to have hope that spring would actually come when the ground began to thaw, weeds were sprouting in my bare beds, and webs (eekk!!! I’ll explain another time) started to appear outside. Each day and week would past and eventually the smallest of buds appeared on bushes, brassicas and pansies appeared on nursery shelves, and lawn furniture made its way into store displays. Last week I noticed the first yellow blossoms on bushes throughout town, magnolias nearly bursting from their buds, and spring bulbs blooming everywhere. Finally, spring, despite her constantly changing weather, is here!

However, months before these sings of renewal appeared, I was planning away. I created drawings and computer renditions, placed seed orders, made many trips to garden centers, priced supplies, read reviews, checked out the ENTIRE  gardening section at the local library (yes, locals, that was me!), and started seed after seed of incredible flowers and edible vegetables! By mid-February I had my first seeds starting in their little biodegradable cups set up on a completely makeshift growing station of an upside-down white board on two stools. Eventually, space got tight and I flipped a corkboard over onto a storage container used for camping. It wasn’t pretty but it worked. I’m also working out of a northern exposure window… great lighting, I know… the joys of living in a duplex. So to support growth, I used lamps from around the house for extra lighting. I realized after a few weeks that the room could use some heat and after finding inspiration from a local blogger I realized I could stop saving for a heat mat and simply use the space heater from the closet that was just sitting there without a purpose. Viola! Hello seedlings, welcome to your new home!

During my copious amount of time researching I had read how to avoid things like the highly unfortunate fungal disease damping off, and that you should use a fan to help strengthen your seedlings. I also heard you could lightly pet them to do the same thing so I decided I would forgo the fan, if for no other reason than the shrinking amount of available outlets.


Damping off had grand ol’ time in my seed starting trays. There was no recovering from it. So into the trash it went. I have to say, I really don’t recommend at least some of the basic trays with biodegradable pots. Air cannot circulate underneath the tray and it’s an absolute safe haven for mold. Luckily, some of my pots were individual, so while I lost the majority of my seedlings, I didn’t lose them all. (Note: When gardening, you will have failures; it’s inevitable. The best thing you can do is remain positive and move on.) As you can imagine, I learned my lesson, and have been running the fan to help strengthen my plants and keep the air circulating to prevent problems for the survivors.

After this disaster learning experience I spent a week looking at local hardware stores and nurseries for a better solution. I found a few possible options here or there but nothing that really screamed, “You can start successful seedlings with me!” Thinking back on the research I had done and considering the inner workings of some of the more advanced and costlier options, I opted for two seed starting trays that have reusable plastic trays and a water reservoir underneath. To prevent root rot and aid in watering I placed a layer of scrap fleece from past sewing projects in the bottom to help wick moisture up to the roots without them having to stand in it. This is somewhat similar to how the professional products work but costs less than a third of what they do. I’ll keep you updated on how things progress.

I also visited the hardware store and with the help of a very friendly employee came up with a grow light situation. I really need two lights, but for now, the one is working much better than the lamps. Basically, it is two hooks in the ceiling that are attached to two of those gimmicky things that allow you to lower your hanging plants without having to take them off their hooks. I then used some nylon string to create extra length since the lights still weren’t close enough to my plants and then hooked the chains from a fluorescent light (prewired with a plug, ready for use) to the cords. Tada! Instant grow light! The best part was the cost of the entire project. If you’ve ever looked around for a grow lamp I’m sure you’ve noticed how expensive they are. I needed a cheaper alternative and had to keep in mind that we live in a rental and whatever I came up with needed to be as temporary as possible. This was the perfect option. The hooks and nylon cord were leftovers from past projects so they were free. If you needed to buy them to make something similar, the hooks would be about a dollar for a multipack and the nylon string was from a $1.00 bin a Target from several years ago. The lamp itself was $10.00 (we’re rounding up), a two pack of bulbs were less than $5.00, and a set of two pulley systems were $10.00 for a grand total of $25.00. That’s a really good price for a grow light! For those of you considering making a system like this don’t bother buying grow light (full spectrum) bulbs. If you’re just starting seeds with this arrangement (or something similar) regular fluorescent bulbs provide all the light you’ll need.

I have since replanted my seeds into their new home and much improved environment. Here’s hoping and praying that these are the solutions I need and that I’ll have healthy, happy plants from here on out. Are you gardening this year? If so, are you using plant starts or starting your own seeds?


1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    […] you probably already know, I’ve been making plans for this year’s garden for some time now. New crops will include white […]

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